Living with scars

It seems like such an unlikely thing in hindsight, but as a young child I was especially self-conscious about having a scar on my chest and the story behind it. It really got to me at times and it was scary when people noticed, despite the fact that I had had the scar as far back as I could remember.

As a child this has a lot to do with trying to fit in and trying NOT to be different. This even had a slight social impact on my life, but at the same time I’ve had some fun telling the story on occasion…

Pre-teen thoughts
First memories of such confrontations happened in the locker rooms at school during Physical Education and my after-school sporting activities. It was even more so difficult given that whilst living in England I moved school every two or so years, so I never knew my school friends long enough to form a trusting friendship. To avoid, the awkward feeling when others saw the scar that splits my sternum in two, I always faced the wall to put my sports shirt on. This seemed like an easy fix, but surely not something I could keep up for the rest of my life.

At around ten years of age I slowly started to inform some of my friends. I asked several of these long-lost friends on facebook a while back, to try and spur memories for this article. They all hinted towards them finding out after seeing the scar while I changed for sports, or on occasion from their parents who had been told by my mother.

I can't remember a time without scars, yet it took me years to accept them.

I can’t remember a time without scars, yet it took me years to accept them. After my first invasive heart surgery as a baby (photo: Susanne Mühlhaus)

P.S. the scar on my shoulder is from a burn, not anything heart related.

Drowning in shame?
A story that was definitely nerve-racking at the time, but quite funny in retrospect, happened in my school in Germany when I was around 12, a year after arriving. It was a warm summer’s day and break time was just ending as I was confronted by four girls in my class. They all had their serious but understanding faces on as they opened the conversation. “We know why you didn’t come to Hayden’s birthday party on Saturday and it is nothing to be ashamed of. You can’t swim!”

This was news to me and I erupted inside whilst trying to keep a straight face. I didn’t know really what to say and told them that this definitely was not the reason, yet somehow they didn’t believe me. Now I hadn’t gone to that party, because it would have meant being topless around the girls and them noticing the big scar straight down my chest. And although many of my male friends knew a bit about it, I wasn’t yet ready to share it with the girls.

The deception
A few weeks later another friend had a pool party at his house and I felt obliged to go to rid myself of these false claims. No one questioned why I was swimming in a t-shirt after I ‘accidently’ fell in the pool with it on, but at least I could wash off the rumours of my inability to swim. As for the cunning deception, this too was not something I could keep up every time there was a pool party and sure enough, a few months later, the truth popped out like a ball under water.

To this day I don’t actually know if the girls in my class already knew about my heart problem through word of mouth, but the defining moment for me was once again at a pool, when I just had swimming trunks on. A few girls noticed it and asked me about it. After just a brief explanation, I felt the weight fall off my shoulders and wondered why I was nervous about this for so long. From then on, I was quite open about it to all my friends no matter their gender and I found out that it definitely can spark a conversation or two.

The chat up
Several years later, after some persuasion from friends who kept on telling me it would make a great chat up line, I figured I wouldn’t be much of a man if I didn’t at least try. However, saying that I LITERALLY have a big heart (before my valve replacement the heart muscle had actually grown to nearly twice the size) or that ‘too many girls broke my heart’ as a reason for the scar on my chest never got me anywhere… Maybe you’ll have more luck.

To be fair, most of the time it was meant as a light-hearted joke (pun intended) and I was always on the lookout for new funny things to say. Whether or not a girl made my heart skip a beat or whether it was just the nerves of my muscles twitching irregularly as a result of the operation I could not tell. On the flipside, there is one funny story that came up often when I didn’t mention it.

Shortly after being released from hospital after my second invasive heart surgery.  With a new, but identical scar (photo: Susanne Mühlhaus)

Shortly after being released from hospital after my second invasive heart surgery. With a new, but identical scar (photo: Susanne Mühlhaus)

Tick (tock), Tick (tock)
Both at sleep-over parties as a teenager and later when spending time alone in the same room at night with someone who didn’t know about my heart problem, there was always an awkward moment. As my aortic valve was replaced by a mechanical St. Jude valve, one can easily hear my heart ticking like a watch when it is quiet. I’ve had a mix between people looking around the room in the dark wondering where a clock is, to others complaining that they can’t ever sleep to annoying ticking sounds…

As soon as they find out why, their opinions change to ‘it is soothing’, ‘relaxing’ and ‘well at least I can tell if you are dead or not’. [Gee… thanks]. The reactions before and after I tell them often made my day. In fact, for all the times talk of scars didn’t work, talking about the noise made by my heart definitely raised some interest to get me to a quiet place. Although my field-testing days are over, I’d very much be interested in reading any other funny topical things to say as a pick-up.

It wasn’t always fun and games though. I would often feel self-conscious about sleeping next to friends, wondering if they can hear the ticking as loud as I can. Even to this day, I angle my body slightly different, if i realise that the ticking is louder than usual, in an attempt not to bug my pretty lady. It doesn’t disturb me, but I can never tell if it is undesired by my smaller spoon. Just some thoughts on the noise, now back to the scars.

Accepting scars
I think there is a big difference between having to deal with this from birth and having surgery later in life. As a child one can often struggle to fit in or find one’s place, especially if you move around as much as I did. Being different because of a scar with such a story can take a while to accept. As an adult, I think the more important aspect is that you know you are alive, you survived and the added optical point of interest shouldn’t change how you live your life. I can, however, also understand why it could affect an adult who places most of their self-worth in their appearance.

And there is the saying that ‘scars are sexy’, which i like to think is true after forming a 30cm scar on my leg due to the leg incident. Once again though, that is a matter of opinion.

Everyone is different when it comes down to it. Just like almost any other thing in life, it matters most what you make of it, because how you project yourself will reflect to others. If you say it is ugly, people won’t think it is hot and at best, pity you. If you think a scar is cool, others will follow in that direction. You just need to find the balance that fits to you. I am comfortable with my scars, as all my friends know, otherwise I’d hardly be writing this blog. The friends I play football with would probably say I am a bit too comfortable as soon as there is warm weather…


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2 comments on “Living with scars
  1. Gabriele says:

    great text, Sebastian! I really enjoyed reading; txs for sharing.

  2. Seb M. says:

    I completely agree :) Seb

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